Mikhail Sergachev became the fourth rookie defender in NHL history to score five game-winning goals in a season. But it’s his overall output, not just the game-winners, that is really making Sergachev stand out.
It wasn’t exactly a textbook play or how he would have drawn it up, but when Mikhail Sergachev knocked a loose puck off the skate of Nikita Zadorov and subsequently past the pad of Jonathan Bernier in Saturday night’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche, the Tampa Bay Lightning rearguard earned himself a small piece of hockey history.
The goal was Sergachev’s eighth of the season, one that stopped an Avalanche comeback in its tracks and wound up standing up as the game-winner. And the record-setting aspect of the tally was that it gave the rookie rearguard five game-winners on the season. That’s significant in that Sergachev becomes one of only four first-year defensemen in NHL history, alongside Gord Fraser (1926-27), Dion Phaneuf (2005-06) and Shayne Gostisbehere (2015-16), to register five game-winning goals in a season. But with 50 games left in the season, chances are Sergachev could have another one in him by the time the campaign comes to a close, meaning he could join Phaneuf as the only other defender with six or more game-deciding markers in his rookie season.
Statistically speaking, Sergachev has been as productive as any rearguard in Tampa Bay this season. While he’s been sheltered quite heavily, taking a greater slant of offensive zone starts than any other defender in the NHL not named Niklas Kronwall, Sergachev has shown consistent ability to keep play headed in the right direction and insulate the Lightning net. His Corsi for of 55.4 percent at 5-on-5, which is adjusted for score and venue, is the 16th-best mark among all 200-minute defenders. His scoring chances for percentage, 56.4, and high-danger chances for percentage, 56.3, rank 16th and 30th among the same grouping of defensemen, respectively. And his outstanding goals for percentage, which sits at 69.1 percent, is the second-best mark.
Sergachev’s ability to drive play and create opportunities is manifesting itself in points, and lots of them. His five goals at 5-on-5 are more than any other Tampa Bay rearguard – remember, this is a team that boasts offensively gifted blueliners Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman – and tied for the second-most of any defenseman behind only Columbus Blue Jackets standout Zach Werenski. Beyond that, Sergachev has notched 11 points at five-a-side, which is good enough to put him into a tie for 13th place among all defensemen, but only four back of Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg, whose 15 points at 5-on-5 lead the way.
With the way Sergachev has driven play and found the scoresheet, maybe it isn’t all that surprising he’s chasing down a statistical record for rookie defensemen. What might surprise some, though, is that Sergachev is putting himself in line to have the kind of offensive campaign the league hasn’t seen from a blueliner in decades.
With his goal Saturday, as well as an assist on an earlier marker by Anton Stralman, Sergachev boosted his point total to 23 through 32 games, but, more importantly, he improved his respective goal and point paces. His eighth goal, for instance, puts Sergachev on pace for 21 goals, and the assist, his 15th of the year, added to his point total to put him in line for 59 points. Now, not only does that make Sergachev among the highest-scoring rookies this season — he’s tied for fourth with teammate Yanni Gourde and Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat — but it puts the Lightning blueliner on pace to put up a point total akin to some Hall of Fame-calibre talent.
In fact, per NHL.com’s statistical database, if Sergachev were to maintain his current pace or even fall back slightly and finish with 55 points, he would become one of only 13 rookie defensemen to put up 55 or more points. And the company he would keep as one of those baker’s dozen is no joke. Among the defenders to manage such a point total as rookies are Ray Bourque (65 points), Larry Murphy (76), Phil Housley (66), Chris Chelios (64), Brian Leetch (71) and Nicklas Lidstrom (60). And almost as impressive as the company Sergachev would be keeping is the gap in years since any of those blueliners managed to have their 55-plus point campaigns. Bourque, for instance, managed his outstanding rookie year in 1979-80, and Murphy, Housley, Chelios and Leetch all did so between 1980-81 and 1988-89. The most recent instance of a rookie defenseman surpassing the 55-point plateau, however, was Lidstrom, and that was in 1991-92 — more than 25 years ago in a season that ended six years before Sergachev was born.
It would be realistic to expect more of the same from Sergachev as the season continues, too. Reason being is Sergachev has earned himself a greater opportunity in recent outings, moving from a bottom of the rotation defenseman into one who’s seeing time on the second pairing. Across his first 15 games, Sergachev was skating roughly 13:34 per game. Since then, though, he’s seen his average increase by nearly three minutes and moved up to skate alongside Anton Stralman. That’s not to mention Sergachev has also earned an increased role on the power play and has started getting playing time on the penalty kill.
So, while Sergachev’s pursuit of becoming the second rookie rearguard in league history to register more than five game winners in a campaign is impressive, it’s his particularly potent overall offense that should be the headline here. Because if Sergachev can keep this up, he could find himself in the history books alongside a cast of Hall of Famers who produced big numbers from the blueline in their first season in the league.
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